Yale vs Kentucky Picks, Predictions | Will Bulldogs Keep Things Close?

Yale vs Kentucky Picks, Predictions | Will Bulldogs Keep Things Close? article feature image

Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: John Poulakidas (Yale)

Yale vs. Kentucky Odds

Saturday, Dec. 10
1 p.m. ET
SEC Network
Yale Odds
-105o / -115u
Kentucky Odds
-105o / -115u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

Yale is one of those teams that's constantly atop the Ivy League. Despite the roster turnover, the Bulldogs are 8-2 and are first in KenPom's Ivy League ratings this season.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is one of those teams constantly atop the SEC. Despite the early-season losses, the Wildcats are still the class of the conference.

The Wildcats have faired well against lower competition, but haven't always beaten large numbers.

Can Kentucky cover 15 here? Can the Bulldogs keep it close?

How should you bet this game?

Yale Bulldogs

Yale lost Azar Swain and Jalen Gabbidon, but that's nothing new to head coach James Jones. It wasn't long ago that Paul Atkinson Jr. shredded up the Ivy and was replaced.

Jones has built a culture of winning in New Haven, which includes two straight Ivy League Tournament titles.

It looks like the Bulldogs will be fine, busting out to an 8-2 non-conference start behind their potential First Team All-Ivy forward.

Matt Knowling went from averaging 7.2 points last season to 16.1 points per game this year. He's significantly upped his usage (25.4% of possessions) while remaining superbly efficient (60.7 TS%).

Image Credit: CBB Analytics

Knowling mainly scores in the paint, allowing Yale to run a Princeton-like offense with shooters around him. The Bulldogs are top-40 in off-the-dribble 3 rate, top-50 in spot-up rate and top-120 in overall 3-point rate.

John Poulakidas is firing away, shooting 47.3% from deep on five attempts per game.

But Yale is built on its customary, stingy defense. Yale contests shots as well as anyone (28th in eFG% allowed, 87th in 3-point rate allowed) while rebounding at an elite rate (8th in DR%).

Generally, I target tough defensive/rebounding teams in underdog situations. But despite Jones' overall brilliance (178-143-7 ATS overall, 55.5%), the Bulldogs haven't thrived in this spot.

Even including a 4-1 ATS mark in 2019, the Bulldogs are 22-27-2 ATS as a non-conference dog over the past 10 seasons.

However, the Bulldogs are also further ahead than last season. Yale struggled at the beginning of 2021-22, with Jones being quoted in Blue Ribbon, saying:

"When we first started last year, I did not see a path to success, meaning winning a championship." 

That championship was won despite a 6-8 non-conference record, with losses to Stony Brook and Monmouth. This year, the Bulldogs breezed by Hawaii and Vermont while posting close losses to Colorado (65-62) and Butler (71-61).

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Kentucky Wildcats

It's hard to pinpoint where we're at with Kentucky.

Oscar Tshiebwe hasn't been 100% yet, so I suppose we can write off a double-overtime loss to Michigan State and a road loss to Gonzaga. He dropped 13 points and grabbed 14 boards over 31 minutes against Michigan, but the Wildcats still only won by four.

On paper, this looks like the most talented team in the nation. The inside-out duo of Tshiebwe and Sahvir Wheeler is enough to collapse any defense. Jacob Toppin, Antonio Reeves and sharpshooter CJ Fredrick back them up.

I am extremely impressed by Cason Wallace. The Texas freshman is a double-digit, wildly-efficient scorer while snagging four boards and dishing four assists per night.

Also, Wallace's on-ball defense is superb. He's recording over 2.5 steals per game and ranks top-40 nationally in steal rate.

Wallace reminds me of a tank with Michael Jordan's quick hands. It's hard to get past him.

Huge fan of Cason Wallace at Kentucky. 10.6 PTS, 4.6 AST, 2.9 STL thus far

Scalable C&S game on offense to play off-ball, but an incredible disruptor on defense. Breaks rhythm, sneaks into passing lanes, guards above his weight class. Winning player in every manner pic.twitter.com/9MGa9UFPMb

— The Box and One (@TheBoxAndOne_) December 1, 2022

Wallace represents the key for Kentucky. The Wildcats flopped last season because of defense, posting some of the worst defensive stats of John Calipari's Lexington career.

The Wildcats currently rank fifth nationally in KenPom's Adjusted Efficiency, but posted their three worst defensive performances in the three biggest games, allowing:

  • 104.7 points/100 possessions to Michigan State
  • 115.4 points/100 possessions to Gonzaga
  • 97.5 points/100 possessions to Michigan

Posting your worst defensive performances against the best offenses is logical, however, I wonder if it's emblematic of a bigger problem with this roster at large.

Yale vs. Kentucky Betting Pick

A couple of key things stick out to me.

Yale is great on the ball, ranking top-40 in offensive turnover rate. The Bulldogs are not careless with the ball, and that should keep the Wallace/Wheeler duo from causing chaos and getting easy buckets.

The Bulldogs also rebound with the best of them, hopefully keeping Tshiebwe off the offensive glass.

Yale allows some of the fewest put-back opportunities (10th percentile) while defending them at a high rate (.781 PPP allowed, 95th percentile), which bodes very well.

Additionally, Knowling can probably battle with the Kentucky frontcourt. This Yale frontcourt is experienced and not without talent.

Kentucky has won two straight, but failed to cover either, perhaps indicating the Wildcats are slightly overvalued.

I haven't been impressed with Kentucky. Meanwhile, Yale is trending up in non-conference play this season and has the ball security, rebounding and bucket-getting tools to avoid a blowout.

It also helps that Kentucky has a week-long break immediately following this game, before a monster showdown with UCLA next Saturday. It could be a get-in and get-out spot for Calipari's squad.

Either way, I'll bank on the Bulldogs on Saturday.

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